Iran informs IAEA it will start process to boost uranium enrichment

Iran will inform the UN nuclear watchdog in Vienna on Tuesday of the start of a process to increase the country’s uranium enrichment capacity, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said.

“In a letter that will be handed over to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) … Iran will announce that the process of increasing the capacity to produce … UF6 [uranium hexafluoride] … will start on Tuesday,” Kamalvandi told the country’s ISNA news agency.

He said Iran had the capacity to accelerate production of centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium. The UF6 is a feedstock for centrifuges.

Iran’s ultimate authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered preparations to increase uranium enrichment capacity if the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers falls apart after the US withdrawal from it last month.

The deal allows Iran to continue 3.67 per cent uranium enrichment, far below the roughly 90 per cent threshold of weapons-grade. Before the deal was reached, Tehran enriched uranium to up to 20 per cent purity.

“The leader [Khamenei] meant that we should accelerate some process … linked to our nuclear work capacity to move forward faster in case [it’s] needed,” Kamalvandi said.

European signatories of the accord back the deal but have concerns over Iran’s ballistic missile program and its political influence in the Middle East. Iran says the two issues are non-negotiable.

Under the agreement with the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China, Iran was given the strictly limited uranium enrichment capacity to satisfy the powers that it could not be used to develop atomic bombs.

In exchange, Iran received relief from sanctions, most of which were rescinded in January 2016.

Since US President Donald Trump’s announcement of the American exit on May 8, EU leaders have pledged to try to keep Iran’s oil trade and investment flowing but admitted that will not be easy to do.

Iranian authorities have said that if the European countries failed to keep the pact alive, Tehran had several options, including resuming its 20 per cent uranium enrichment.

The letter comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began a tour of Europe designed to turn European leaders’ support for a revived accord into a US-style exit from it.

He is said to have taken with him documents obtained from Iran which show it has been acting against the accord. The document trove was first announced by Netanyahu during a prime-time televised address in English last month.

At the time intelligence experts and diplomats said he did not present a “smoking gun” showing that Iran had violated the agreement, although he may have helped make a case for on behalf of the United States.

Netanyahu met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday, his first stop in trying to convince also France and Britain to withdraw.

Afterwards, the two leaders were asked about a Sunday tweet from Khamenei’s account saying his country’s “stance against Israel is the same stance we have always taken”. The tweet said Israel was “a malignant cancerous tumor in the West Asian region that has to be removed and eradicated: it is possible and it will happen.”

The Twitter account is run by Khamenei’s office and it’s not known if he dictates the tweets himself. The quote is from several years ago.

Netanyahu called the post “quite extraordinary”.

“Iran calls for our destruction, but it’s also seeking nuclear weapons to carry out its genocidal design,” he said.

Merkel said “we sharply condemn what the Iranian leadership said,” but reiterated her view that the nuclear agreement was the best way to prevent Iran from developing atomic weapons. She pledged to increase pressure on Tehran to scale back its military influence in the region. Israel’s security was a top priority for Germany.

“We are not in agreement on all questions, but we are friends, we are partners,” Merkel said of Netanyahu.

The other co-signers of the nuclear agreement met last month in Vienna, reaffirming their commitment to it. French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said France too would insist on having a dialogue with Iran.

Netanyahu suggested the deal was bound to collapse without American involvement, but said he agreed with Merkel that “Iran’s aggressions” needed to be kept in check.

“We have some disagreements, as you can see, but they’re not really on goal, they’re more on method,” he said.

Khamenei, who makes the final decisions on all major policies in Iran, on Monday warned that anyone who fires one missile at his country “will be hit by 10” in response, but dismissed fears of war as “propaganda” by the West.

The supreme leader also reiterated his support for the country’s ballistic missile program.

“Production of various missiles and missile power provides security,” Khamenei said.

Earlier Monday, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency renewed calls for Iran to provide “timely and proactive cooperation” in inspections that are part of the nuclear deal.

At a news conference later, Yukiya Amano said his statement was “not an expression of concerns or complaints, but rather an encouragement to Iran.”

Last month, in its first report since the US withdrawal, the IAEA said Iran continues to stay below the maximum level of uranium the deal allows it to enrich. The agency’s report also said Iran appears to be fulfilling other obligations, but is slow when it comes to “complementary access” inspections.

Source » Reuters

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